Donald Henley (born July 22, 1947 in Gilmer, Texas) moved from Linden, Texas, to Los Angeles in 1970 to record an album with his early band, Shiloh. The band was bankrolled by fellow Texan Kenny Rogers, then flush with cash from his band The New Edition. Shortly thereafter, Henley met Glenn Frey through Amos Records in Los Angeles. They both became members of Linda Ronstadt’s backup band, which two month later became its own act, The Eagles.
The first Eagles’ album was released in 1972 and contained the hit song “Take It Easy”, as well as Henley’s first hit songwriting attempt, “Witchy Woman”. As the seventies progressed, Henley’s raspy vocals replaced Glenn Frey’s twangy tenor as the focal point of The Eagles’ sound." The band broke up in 1980; during The Eagles’ existence Henley co-wrote (usually with Frey) most of the band’s best-known songs, notably “Desperado” and “Hotel California”.
Following the breakup of The Eagles, Henley embarked on a productive solo career, the most successful of any of The Eagles. His first solo release, 1982’s I Can't Stand Still, was a moderate seller. The song “Dirty Laundry”, a denunciation of local television news, received the most airplay. Henley and Nicks would co-write and duet on her Billboard Hot 100 number six hit “Leather and Lace” that same year.
This was followed in 1984 by Building the Perfect Beast, which featured layered synthesizers and was a marked departure from The Eagles’ country-rock sound. A single release, “The Boys of Summer”, reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100. The music video for the song was a striking, evocative, black-and-write, French New Wave-influenced masterpiece directed by John Baptiste Mondino that won several MTV Video Music Awards including Best Video of the Year. Henley also won the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for the song. The album’s “All She Wants to Do is Dance” (Number Nine on Hot 100), “Sunset Grill”, and “Not Enough Love in the World” also received considerable airplay.
Henley’s next album, 1989’s The End of the Innocence, was even more successful. The title track, a collaboration with Bruce Hornsby, was a melancholy, piano-driven tale of finding bits of happiness in a corrupt world that reached number five as a single. The hit follow-up, “The Heart of the Matter”, was an emotive chance remembrance of a lost love. Both of these songs used the effective technique of varying the words in the chorus each time it is sung, to advance the song’s narrative. The album’s “The Last Worthless Evening” and “New York Minute” were among the other songs that gained radio airplay. Henley again won the Best Male Rock Vocal Performance Grammy for the album.
In concert tours Henley would play drums and sing simultaneously only on certain Eagles’ songs; on his solo songs he would either play electric guitar and sing or just sing. Occasionally Eagles’ songs would get drastic rearrangements, such as “Hotel California” with four trombones.
A long period without a new recording followed, as Henley waited out a dispute with his record company and participated in an Eagles’ reunion tour and live album. Henley finally released another solo studio recording, Inside Job, in 2000, to a generally indifferent response, although the track “Taking You Home” received airplay.
In 1990 Henley founded the Walden Woods Project to help protect Walden Pond from development. The Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods was started in 1998 to provide for research and education regarding Henry David Thoreau.
Henley co-founded the non-profit Caddo Lake Institute in 1993 to underwrite ecological education and research. As part of the Caddo Lake Coalition, CLI helps protect the Texas wetland where Henley spent much of his childhood.
In 2000 Henley co-founded with Sheryl Crow the Recording Artists’ Coalition, a group founded to protect musicians’ rights against common music industry business practices. In this role he testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 2001 and the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in 2003.
Henley is not always an idealist. In a March 2001 interview on Charlie Rose, he stated that “rock bands work best as a benevolent dictatorship”, with the principal songwriters in a band (“me and Glenn Frey”) being the ones that will hold the power.